#1: Cool stat via Jason Seidling of the Pittsburgh Penguins: the Pens have only allowed 16 goals in the last 10 games. On the year it's 35 goals against in 16 games (2.19 per game), best in the Eastern Conference, and by far the best in the division- 2nd place is Washington, 17th in the league at 2.76 GA/game. As the old saying goes, "chicks dig the long ball," err goals, but just as key for building championship caliber teams is limiting goals against. Under the first handful of games with a new set of coaches, the Pens have been impressive of late for what they're not doing- allowing a lot of goals against.
#2: Second interesting stat, Pens are now 7-0-0 this season when recording 35+ shots in a game, and are 9-1-0, overall, when out-shooting an opponent. Compared to 3-2-1 when they don't out-shoot a team. "Puck possession" and "shot volume" are the trendy terms of the day in the hockey community, and Pittsburgh has been living proof so far of those tenents working out. It's pretty simple- control the puck a majority of the time and pepper the other goalie with shots and a team is more likely to score goals and less likely to have goals scored on them. So far the Penguins have done this and reaped the benefits.
#3: Teams on November 18 with fewer regulation losses than the Penguins:
#4: But, of course there are a variety of surprising teams with 4 regulation losses (1 back of the Pens): Florida, Nashville, Detroit, Tampa...A reminder that it is early in the season, still.
#5: Speaking of early season matchups, this weekend features a home-and-home with the surprisingly second place in the division New York Islanders. Should be a measuring to stick to see just how the newly rebuilt Islanders team stacks up against the established Penguins, and you just know both teams will be gunning at each other accordingly.
#6: The Penguins are so good at shootouts, it's almost unfair. Marc-Andre Fleury is 47-19 overall in them, and his .769 save % is the best for active goalies in the entire league that have faced 20+ shots. Sidney Crosby has 28 career shootout goals (and a ridiculous 43.8% scoring rate) to lead the way with Evgeni Malkin (40.8%) and Kris Letang (32.7%) not very far behind. The shootout is a skills competition, and no one in the league has the depth of skill that the Penguins have with those 4 guys on breakaway drills being #1 in the league all-time in the shootout. They're 2-0 this year, after Saturday night's crazy win against the Rangers.
#7: Where you play makes a difference, part 1: Patric Hornqvist only notched 16 assists in 76 games in the 2011-12 season. He's already got 10 helpers in the 16 games as a Penguin.
#8: Every spring there's a mad dash to sign undrafted college free agents, and sometimes it works out...Sometimes not. And sometimes it just takes a while. San Jose signed former Union College goalie (and Hobey Baker finalist) Troy Grosenick in the spring of 2012. He's languished in the AHL ever since, with relatively modest career numbers: 25-16-2 record with a .905 save %. And, as you probably knew, Grosenick, 25, burst onto the scene with a 45 save shutout in his first career NHL game on Sunday. Something to perhaps keep in the back of the mind with the Penguins 2013 Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell unimpressively floating between the ECHL and AHL levels. Goalies: you figure ‘em out. But, the one obvious thing is the more skilled youngsters a team has, the more likely they'll find one that breaks out or can develop into something that can contribute at the NHL level one day.
#9: Ryan Wilson with an interesting trade suggestion: prospect Ty Rattie from St. Louis. The youngster played in Portland for Mike Johnston, but hasn't been able to get a chance in the show yet, due to St. Louis' immense depth of great wingers. Pittsburgh, for their part, has some solid young defensemen like Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington that they've been unable to find NHL spots for. Seems like a good place to start a trade negotiation, but I'm very hesitant to believe that a 21 year old winger with 2 career NHL games in the beginning of his second year as a pro is going to be the instant, automatic answer for a NHL top six position. At a cap hit of just $772k, though, and with the skills he's shown, it would definitely be worth it to at least have a conversation with the Blues to see if there was mutual interest in making something work though.
#10: Even if Rattie isn't the answer, the above thinking is on the right track. Pittsburgh has too many defensemen and not enough NHL jobs, in the big picture. Youngsters like Dumoulin and Harrington won't go to waste immediately if they're kept in the minors a little longer than they should be, but they're of no current value to the team down there, too. The Pens already have Kris Letang (8 year contract) and Olli Maatta (6 years team control) set, and can supplement that with a solid veteran (keeping one of Christian Ehrhoff / Paul Martin ) and then have Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres as younger, bigger guys who have improved their respective NHL stocks in the past 12 months. Add in Derrick Pouliot, who will be an NHL player sooner than later, and that's 6 players already, before we even get to Rob Scuderi (who figures in by virtue of still having a contract through 2016-17) and the other prospects like Dumoulin and Harrington.
One way or another, it would seem wise to acquire a skilled, young forward with a top-6 pedigree by using the Penguins sole trading chip: their excess of quality, young defenseman. It won't be Maatta or Pouliot that go, either. It will be very interesting to see what Jim Rutherford and the Penguins front office comes up with as identifying the correct target and if they pull the trigger. We all remember the James Neal + Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski deal as the golden standard for bringing in a talented winger for a defensemen, but remember that Neal had already had two 20+ goal NHL seasons. He was very much a known commodity by the time he was dealt to Pittsburgh, which probably won't be the case this next time around.